The search for certainty on climate change, and other acts of folly

Today (December 6) has been declared the International Day of Action on Climate Change; the day has been chosen as it falls midway through the UN climate change conference in Poznan, Poland. And so, while around 190 nations’ representatives prevaricate, numerous grassroots actions and events are taking place around the world as citizens express their concern about the growing impact of climate change.

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, the new government of Aotearoa New Zealand is considering a parliamentary select committee review of the scientific evidence around whether any human-induced climate change is actually taking place at all.

The possibility of the New Zealand Parliament engaging in this surreal folly is driven by the right-wing neoliberal ACT Party, whose climate change policy includes the following statements:

A commonsense approach to Climate Change would recognise that: There is no point destroying our economy in pursuit of ‘carbon neutrality’ if carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are not driving global warming.

New Zealand is not warming. There is no warming trend since 1970 and the slight warming trend since 1950 is not statistically significant. If it were to warm moderately, we would likely benefit in terms of land-based production, human health and reduced heating bills. Arguments that we would lose from sea-level rise or more extreme events are unproven conjectures.

People should be free to live and work how they choose, including making their own decisions as to what light bulbs to use, unless there is clear scientific evidence that their actions are damaging the environment, or unless they are harming others.

Distinguish between real pollutants and carbon dioxide – carbon dioxide is a vital and necessary greenhouse gas crucial for plant growth and human survival.

Make decisions based on sound science – not on blind belief or ideology which is increasingly divorced from reason.

The key to ACT’s extreme position is found in the repeated calls on “sound science” and “clear scientific evidence.” Such childish empiricism could simply be regarded as innocent naivety were it not for the fact that, through its support for the National government, ACT now has two MPs esconced in ministerial gas-guzzlers.

The desire for policy based purely on objective facts and verifiable certainties, and thus delivering guaranteed outcomes, is tied to the larger desire for an ordered, rational society. ACT reflects this in its other policies, for example, on law and order. One wonders where else the desire for “scientific certainty” will lead in the coming months with respect to the policy areas of commerce, consumer affairs, defence, education and local government, where ACT MPs hold their ministerial warrants.

Czech author Milan Kundera, in his book The Farewell Party (which we might well adopt as an alternative name for the ACT Party), comments insightfully on the desire for order, which he describes as:

a desire to turn the human world into an inorganic one, where everything would function perfectly and work on schedule. The longing for order is at the same time a longing for death, because life is an incessant disruption of order. Or to put it the other way around: the desire for order is a virtuous pretext, an excuse for virulent misanthropy.

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